The Muscovy is easily identified by the caruncle, red in color, covering the cheeks, extending behind the eyes, and swollen at the root of the bill. It is generally larger than common ducks. Wild Muscovy males are brownish black with white patches on the wings, the female similarly but more obscurely colored. Domesticated examples vary considerably in color.
Domestication of Muscovys has been estimated as early as AD 50, although accounts are spotty. What seems widely accepted is that the Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century kept them and took them home from where they spread throughout Europe. Brown claimed the earliest mention of these ducks was in French, 1670, and they were called Turkish duck. Willughby who died in 1672 called it, “a wild Brazilian duck of the bigness of a goose”, and described the Muscovy excellently.
“It is in this kind the biggest of all we have hitherto seen. The colour both of male and female is for the most part a purplish black. Yet I once saw a duck of this kind purely white. About the Nosthrils and the Eyes it hath red Caruncles. It hath a hoarse voice; and scarce audible, unless when it is angry. Its Eyes are rounder than ordinary: Those of the young ones at first are of a sordid green, afterwards become continually whiter and whiter”. – Ray, John (1627-1705) and Willughby, Francis (1635-1672). “The Ornithology of Francis Willughby of Moddleton in the County of Warwick Esq, fellow of the Royal Society in three books . . .
DNA testing is underway and currently held notions may or may not change as results are compiled.
Eighteenth century fishermen often used Muscovy quills to make floats for slow waters. This practice was still commonly described almost a century later. – The Laboratory; Or, School of Arts. 1799. London.
Some initially claimed the Muscovy was from Eastern Europe although that claim was later refuted. Observers wrote in the early Victorian era that in its native South America nests were in trees but as soon as the ducklings hatched the hen took them one by one to the water. Eggs are greenish white, roundish, and average from 12 to 18 eggs. Nineteenth century breeders noted the Muscovy was a faithful sitter and should be allowed to hatch her own young. – The Farmer’s Magazine. April, 1858.
“Muscovy ducks are most excellent incubators. They are used as incubators both in France and especially in Australia. In these and possibly in other countries they hatch turkey eggs, duck eggs and even chicken eggs. In some places in Australia five hundred Muscovys are kept for sitting on duck eggs, as it has been found that they hatch out a much larger per cent of eggs and with comparatively little trouble to their owners than either hens or incubators.
Muscovy duck eggs take thirty-five days to hatch, consequently they make very patient and steady sitters on eggs and will hatch duck, turkey or goose eggs without difficulty. In using Muscovys you will probably need one Muscovy duck on an average to every thirty youngsters you wish to raise. . . They make their nests on the ground by hollowing out a hole with their bodies and lining it with straw. When the ducks are about to sit, they pull feathers from their own breast and with these line the top of the nest, so that one may always know when a Muscovy duck is ready to sit. . . When the Muscovy duck leaves her nest to eat, which she will once or twice a day, she covers up the eggs with the feathers and down. Towards the end of the hatch she will often stay off the nest a full hour without injury to the eggs.” – Basley, A., Mrs. “Western Poultry Book”. 1912. Los Angeles.
“The Muscovy duck is easily fattened, and a prolific breeder, and hence, though it is also a voracious feeder, it may be rendered profitable to rear.” Drakes and hens readily crossed with other ducks although the hybrids didn’t have the breeding capacity of the purebreds. – The American Agriculturist. July, 1845. NY.
The hatching success of Muscovy crosses varied from outright claims of sterility to those who said they rarely hatched signifying while it was possible for them to hatch the success rate was extremely low.
The Annual Report of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture said in 1863 that the Muscovy duck was native to South America and had formerly been known as the Guinea duck. Other earlier sources used the name Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian, Musk, Muscovite, Turkish, and Barbary. In the 1860’s it was still sometimes called the Barbary duck. The report stated it had been introduced for domestication during the sixteenth century.
Its flesh was noted to be excellent in flavor. Dixon wrote that the flavor was excellent if killed just before fully fledged [having wing feathers sufficient enough to enable the bird to fly], but it took longer in achieving growth for the table than the common duck. “The flesh is at first high flavoured and tender, but an old bird would be rank and the toughest of tough meat.” – Brown, Edward. “Races of Domestic Poultry”. 1906.
With that, I bid adieu as the reader considers the merits of this odd looking duck. – Victoria Brady, The Historic Foodie. – ©Nov. 2017.